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American Sign Language: "mute"

In a message dated 10/31/2012 8:53:40 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, gigi writes:

Dear Dr. Bill,
I just started to learn to ASL a couple of months ago, taking a class at my community college. The other day someone asked me why I decided to take ASL and what originally sparked my interest was my dad. When I was growing up my dad got lung cancer which spread to his throat and it effectively lead to him losing his ability to speak and be understood he knew a little Lakota sign from growing up on a reservation but a lot of our communication consisted of made up hand gestures and lip reading, anyway in trying to explain this I realized that I have no idea what the proper term for someone who is hearing but can't speak is I'm assuming it's mute but I'm not sure and I know that word isn't PC in the wrong context and I don't want to insult anyone accidentally so I was wondering what the proper term would be and what the corresponding sign would be.
-Thanks Gigi

Hello :)
We Deaf (and hard of hearing) people are not (as a general rule) "mute" but your dad is indeed mute.

If someone gives you grief about using the term "mute" in regard to your Dad, then you have two ways to go. You can either apologize and say you are sorry to have "offended" them, or you can stand your ground and tell them that your Dad (the one who is mute), prefers to be called by his first name but if for whatever reason his physical condition needs to be discussed he then chooses to label himself as "mute" and that you care about what your Dad thinks and quite frankly you don't give a fig what anybody else thinks but that if it will help the criticizer to feel better you'd be glad to use the phrase "speech impaired" when around the criticizer and "mute" when around your father and the rest of society.

[How's THAT for a run-on sentence?]

You could even follow up with, "But the fact is his speech is not 'impaired' it is freaking GONE and therefore the best word in the English language to describe his condition is the word mute.

Would you believe that in the Deaf Community some have decided to RECLAIM the word mute!?!

While in general Deaf people are not "mute" there are those within the Deaf Community who do NOT speak and with quite some zealousness will stand up in front of a crowd and proudly label themselves as Deaf MUTE! 

Don't expect someone who isn't CURRENTLY connected to the culture to understand it.

But just as the Blacks reclaimed (for their own use) the "N" word, and the Gays reclaimed the "Q" word, many (but not all) in the Deaf Community have reclaimed the "M" word.

Dr. Bill


Dear Dr. Bill,
I've recently developed a disability that, among other things, leaves me incapable of speech. I can, and frequently do, make non speech sounds, and occasionally, with great effort and time (which actually causes me pain), can manage simple words. I am a hearing person, I just can't speak. I'm not much for being P.C., and I don't much care what it's called. (I've labeled myself as mute in my head), but I'm going to a psychiatrist starting in a month and I don't know how to sign the word mute, or whatever I need to call it. "I hate being mute. It's frustrating" is going to come up a lot. How do I sign the word I need? Your dictionary only seems to have a letter about the political ramifications of the word "mute" and not the sign itself, and I can't seem to find the word anywhere else.
I want to thank you for your videos. I'm homebound because of my disability so I can't take a class. I can't walk well, I have seizures a lot, and I can't drive. I'm stuck at home. Since I can't talk either, your website is such an amazing resource. It's really helped me communicate my needs to my boyfriend. When my best friend and her kid come over I can talk to them too. (She's been learning and her son knows baby sign language). It feels good to be understood by at least some people. I wouldn't be able to communicate with anyone without you. Thank you for that.



Hello :)
The sign for "mute" is to move a palm-back "A"-handshape backwards to your lips:




The sign for "MUTE" means you can't talk using your voice. 
[Or choose not to]


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